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Next month Route 66 turns a spry 90 years old. The corridor that runs through eight states—connecting Chicago to the West Coast—has had quite the impact on American culture throughout history. Established on November 11, 1926, this interstate highway was the first of its kind, making American travel simpler and more efficient.
Although it’s mainly been a thoroughfare, communities developed all along US 66, opening businesses and attractions to serve those passing by. In the 1960’s, Route 66’s popularity went into decline as new infrastructure connecting cities began popping up. But the nostalgia and historic importance of this first passageway—fondly known as “Mother Road”— remains present. If you’ve never experienced Route 66, see just how to travel and what to see along the way.
How to Travel
There are so many ways to make the trek. If you’re driving, it’ll take you 51 hours to make the 2,000 mile trip without stop. There are plenty of resources for maps, playlists and recommendations. Taking the Airstream? Campgrounds are peppered all along the route. If you’re considering a bigger adventure, there are motorcycle as well as bicycle tours of the historic highway.
What to See
Historic Route 66 feels like a trip back in time, which is why folks from all over the world travel to experience it. Get a load of the bright neon signs, odd roadside attractions and memorabilia available along the route.
Shea’s Route 66 Gas Station Museum
Once a working Texaco station, the Shea family transformed it into a museum holding a mix of memorabilia from gas stations along Route 66. Make a pit stop at this landmark, 2075 North Peoria Road in Springfield, Illinois.
This Lone Star landmark is an art installation of Cadillacs half buried into the ground. The old automobiles covered in tons of graffiti are a sight to see! Visitors are encouraged to write their names or nice sayings onto the Cadillacs. Cadillac Ranch is located west of Amarillo, Texas on old Route 66, south of I-40 between exits 60 and 62.
Approximately 6,000 years old, this crater is located in the Mojave Desert. Depending on what time of year, a hike to the volcanic cinder includes a scenic walk through wildflowers. Take Amboy Road to Route 66 and turn left onto a dirt road near the crater in Amboy, California.
Catoosa Blue Whale
Easily one of the most recognizable roadside attractions along the old Route 66 is this giant ocean mammal. The recently restored waterfront structure sits upon a pond and picnic area. Due to its popularity among locals and tourists in its heyday, this once privately owned swimming hole was soon opened to the public. Although you can’t go swimming there now, stop by and enjoy a lunch with the bright blue whale. Located at 2680 N Hwy 66 in Catoosa, Oklahoma.
Bottle Tree Ranch
When Elmer Long inherited his father’s bottle collection, he turned to welding. His front yard is now a stunning outdoor art installation of over 200 trees made of glass bottles and iron rods. Also in the mix are old road signs and assorted vintage finds for an over-the-top visual experience. Make time to stop and explore Bottle Tree Ranch, located at
24266 National Trails Highway in Oro Grande, California.
Where to Stay
In it’s prime, Route 66 motels got creative to stand out among their competition. Catering to tourists and travelers, they were more than just lodgings, but also served as restaurants, bars, garages, bowling alleys and more.
Boots Court Motel in Carthage, Missouri
This historic Route 66 landmark has gone some serious preservation. Built in 1939, it offered the latest in technology like air conditioning, a radio in every room, and a public telephone for use. Nowadays you also get free wifi. Book a stay at Boots Court Motel.
Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico
Although the Blue Swallow Motel has changed hands multiple times since it’s start in 1939, it’s always been family owned and operated. Originally a motor court and a cafe, the lodging then evolved into a motel with iconic neon signage. If you’re looking for a flash to past, book a night at Blue Swallow Motel.
Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri
The 19-room retreat was recently restored, all while serving travelers for more than seventy-five years. Make sure to visit the caverns located on the Meramec River while you’re in town! If you’re headed west, plan to spend a night at Wagon Wheel Motel.
Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona
Inspired by his interest in Native American history, Frank Redford opened a lodge offering rooms housed in hard-fabric teepees along the transcontinental route. Famous for it’s cheeky slogan “Do it in a teepee”, tourists flocked to this chain in the height of Route 66’s popularity. Now there are only three working wigwam motels left in the country. Book a stay at Wigwam Motel.
El Rancho Motel in Gallup, New Mexico
The Golden Age of Cinema is alive and well at this retro motel. Walk in into their stunning lobby and you’ll feel the big screen magic with portraits upon portraits of actors and actresses who also stayed at El Rancho including Humphrey Bogart and Joan Crawford. This lodging was sort of an extension of Hollywood studios that filmed Westerns in the area. Stay a weekend in old school glamour at El Rancho Motel.
Have you traveled the historic Route 66? Share your favorite stops along the way.